Atlanta councilman says no bond law has led to thousands not appearing in city court

ATLANTA — Atlanta’s city court is facing a problem that has gotten much worse in the past four years.

Channel 2 investigative reporter Richard Belcher has found that tens of thousands of defendants charged with traffic offenses or minor crimes simply don’t bother to show up for court.

Setting aside those periods when the court was closed because of a cyberattack and COVID-19, records reviewed by Channel 2 Action News show the number of FTAs -- people who failed to appear as required -- is up between 70% and 80% since the city passed a new law governing cash bonds four years ago.

Atlanta City Councilman Michael Julian Bond and every other councilmember supported the law pushed by then-Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.

He told Belcher he now regrets voting for that law.

“The bail reform law that we passed in ‘18, it simply doesn’t work,” Bond said.

The law did away with the requirement to post cash bond on city offenses -- a move popular with political progressives.

But Bond said it shifted the responsibility for releasing people to the city jail and did away with established court programs to evaluate people before letting them sign their own bonds.

“They would follow-up with the individuals to make sure that they came to court. You know they would track the folks that were allowed to sign their own bond. As soon as we passed that law in 2018, all of that went out of the window,” Bond said.


In a statement to Channel 2 Action News, municipal court administrator Rashida Davis said the court has a zero-tolerance policy for defendants who don’t show up for court.

But a lot of people are ignoring that.

Just before the city changed the cash bond policy, about 2,400 people skipped court each month. In the 14 months after the court reopened post-pandemic, about 4,300 people skipped each month -- an increase of 80%.

“If you’ve got at least half to two-thirds of the people who are not showing up, you’re not having justice met in Atlanta,” Bond said.

Davis said under the zero-tolerance policy, the court has issued failure to appear warrants for approximately 8,000 people this year and about 10,000 have been referred to the state for suspension of their driving licenses.

Bond said the city should also make it harder for some defendants to sign their own bond.

“If they’re a proven risk, then they should forfeit their ability to sign their own bond,” Bond said.

Mayor Andre Dickens’ press secretary emailed that the mayor is focused on reducing violent crime—particularly ensuring repeat violent offenders are brought to justice. The elimination of cash bond was for non-violent offenders—mainly traffic and quality of life citations.

The statement does not mention the number of people who skip their dates in city court.